[EDITORIALS]Don’t follow France

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[EDITORIALS]Don’t follow France

In the end, France rejected change. Instead of seeing the future, it chose to rest in the present. After a month of struggle, the bill to establish laws to attack youth unemployment was scrapped. The bill would allow companies to freely lay off new employees younger than 26 and with less than two years in a job. The French government sought to expand the flexibility of its labor market to ease its youth unemployment problem, but the attempt failed when faced by angry voices from an alliance of laborers and students marching in the streets.
Enhancing a company’s competitiveness by labor flexibility and providing more jobs to society in return are common understandings in the era of globalization with increased competition. But the French tradition of valuing balance more highly than efficiency dictated a shortsighted peace. France was proven again to be a lonely island that rejects change amid the unavoidable current of globalization.
With Germany, France used to be the axis of the so-called “Rhineland model” that puts primary value on distribution and social equality. Social benefits and lifetime jobs were considered the norm. Once a company hires a worker, it is difficult to fire him. The model is ideal if continuous growth is guaranteed, but the model is no longer working because of the rough currents coming from globalization. Companies that found it difficult to lay off workers had to minimize new hires to maintain their competitiveness. Consequently and naturally, the unemployment rate went up, and the problems were concentrated on youth, those new to the labor market. Youth unemployment in France reached 23 percent.
Germany, after its grand left-right coalition, found a social consensus on revising the Rhineland model. France, by contrast, fell into alliance and equality, shunning change.
The French case is important for Korea. The pending bill on irregular workers is very similar to the one in France. It would allow a company to fire a new worker within two years, but would promise regular employment conditions after that.
Korea’s youth unemployment rate is 7.7 percent, not as high as that of France. But many young workers new to the labor market are on non-regular status, so the matter is relevant. Korea’s irregular worker bill is also facing fierce protests by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the workforce in general. Efforts to persuade them must be reinforced. Korea’s choice should be different from that of France.
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